“How’d you get the house back from the bank?” Clark asked, looking around wonderingly as he got out of Bruce’s car. His parents’ farm looked only a little the worse for wear after the bank foreclosure he’d been told happened almost a year ago; some of the paint on the door and walls was chipped and peeling, and one of the window panes was cracked, but he could easily fix all of that.
On the steps of the farmhouse, Lois Lane was helping Martha Kent unload her possessions from her truck, carrying them up the steps and into the house. As they heard Bruce and Clark approach, both women looked up, smiling; Martha still had tears in her eyes when she looked at Clark, her smile soft and tremulous.
Bruce coughed in an embarrassed fashion. “I, um. Bought the bank,” he said.
“What?” said Clark, turning to look at him. "The whole bank?"
Bruce shrugged. “It’s like a reflex for me,” he confessed, and looked away, coloring.
Clark blinked at him.
“I’d have done it earlier,” said Bruce, sound slightly defensive, “but I didn’t find out about it until now, when Lois told me about it. Apparently Martha didn’t want to tell me because she was afraid I’d rush off and pay for it.”
“Which you did,” said Clark.
“Which I did,” said Bruce. “I’m sorry I didn’t prevent the foreclosure in the first place.”
Clark stopped walking, turning to face Bruce fully.
“Bruce,” he said.
Bruce looked wary. “What is it?”
“Thank you,” said Clark. “I’ll pay you back, I swear it. Every penny of it.”
Bruce looked pained. “Please don’t. Your…death was my fault to begin with.”
“I believe,” Clark said mildly, “the blame for that falls squarely on the shoulders of our mutual friend Lex Luthor – remember him?”
“Long may he rot in jail,” growled Bruce.
“So, like I said,” Clark told him, “please stop blaming yourself. We were both idiots to fall for his mind games.” He grinned at Bruce. “I guess I never gave you much reason to like me in the first place, anyway,” he said frankly.
Bruce winced. “Look, I already said. I don’t…not like you.”
The earpiece Clark could see peeking out of Bruce’s left ear crackled. A normal person wouldn’t have heard it, of course, but with Clark’s Kryptonian hearing, it was as if he were wearing the earpiece himself.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Master Bruce,” came Alfred’s exasperated voice. “‘I don’t not like you’?”
“Is that Alfred?” Clark asked curiously.
“It was,” said Bruce irritably, clicking the earpiece off. He removed it from his ear, scowled at it and slipped it into his pocket.
They joined Martha and Lois on the steps of the farmhouse, Bruce taking the boxes Lois was carrying and Clark taking Martha’s, carrying the boxes into the farmhouse and placing them on the living room floor.
“I think those are the last ones,” said Lois, dusting her hands off.
Martha turned to her. “Thank you so much, my dear,” she said.
Lois smiled at her warmly. “You know I’m always available, if you need me.” She turned to Clark, giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll leave you to get settled. If you need me, you know where to find me.”
Bruce watched from the kitchen window as Clark walked Lois out to her car, looking a little confused as Clark waved goodbye to Lois.
“Bruce, dear,” said Martha, looking apologetic as she bustled around the kitchen unpacking boxes, “I haven’t really got many of the dishes unpacked yet, but can I get you something to drink?”
“Oh no, please don’t worry about me,” said Bruce, hurrying over to help Martha with a precarious-looking stack of bowls. “How can I help?”
After he’d put the bowls on the table, Martha took his hands in hers. “Thank you so much,” she said, “for what you did for Clark, and for me. You didn’t have to do any of it, but you did.”
She smiled, rising on her tiptoes to kiss Bruce’s cheek. “You’re a good man, Bruce Wayne.”
As Clark let himself back into the kitchen, Martha smiled at Bruce. “Well, I’ll leave you two boys to chat. I have a lot of unpacking to do.” She headed toward the living room, pausing in the kitchen doorway to embrace Clark, sniffling.
“I still can’t believe you’re back,” she murmured, teary-eyed, face still bright with joy.
“We’ve got Bruce to thank for that, Ma,” said Clark, beaming. Martha gave Bruce a final, brilliant smile before going out of the kitchen, shutting the door behind her.
Picking up two of the empty glasses on the kitchen table that Martha had unpacked, Clark went over to the tap, filling them with water. He handed one to Bruce.
“Thanks,” said Bruce, taking it. He waved a hand uncertainly at the kitchen window, from which he’d watched Clark waving as Lois drove off. “Er, you and Lois…?”
“She’s been such a good friend,” said Clark gratefully. “Looking after me until I felt better, and helping my Ma move back here. I hope I’ll be able to be as good a friend to her, as well.”
Bruce looked even more confused. “I thought the two of you were,” he paused. “Dating.”
“We were, in the beginning,” said Clark. “But not anymore. I thought you knew.”
“No?” said Bruce. “I called her and asked her to help us out when you – didn’t recognize us because I thought she was your girlfriend.”
“Well,” said Clark. “It was lucky for you that Lois and I are good friends, then.”
He smiled wryly. “We broke up because she wanted to focus on her career and I realized my tastes ran in…another direction.” He shrugged. “She could definitely do better than me, anyway.”
“That’s not true,” Bruce said immediately. “You’re amazing, you – ” he stopped, looking like he wished he hadn’t said anything.
Clark beamed at him.
“Wait a minute,” Bruce said. “Your tastes ran in…what direction?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Clark. “Men. Grumpy, gorgeous, brooding men with persistent guilt complexes and who like dressing up as bats.”
Bruce blinked, his cheeks turning pink. “That’s…oddly specific.”
Clark shrugged, then made a face as his stomach rumbled loudly. “Ugh, we haven’t bought any groceries yet. I’m starving.”
“Would you like to have dinner with me?” said Bruce. He opened his mouth, shut it, flushed, then opened his mouth again.
“It’s a date,” said Clark quickly, before Bruce could change his mind and retract the invitation. He smiled at Bruce.
Bruce looked surprised, then returned the smile, looking suddenly shy. “I suppose it is.” He paused. “Oh – I suppose I should let Alfred know that I won’t be back for dinner.”
He dug his earpiece back out from his pocket and put it in his ear.
“Alfred,” he said. “I’ll be back late tonight.”
“Ah,” said Alfred. “Will you be needing any of your…tools, sir?”
“No,” replied Bruce. “I…er. Have a date.”
“Oh, thank God,” said Alfred. “I didn’t think I would live to see the day.”
Bruce scowled. “Very funny, Alfred.”
“Hi, Alfred,” Clark piped up.
“Hello, Master Clark,” said Alfred, his voice warm. “I hope you enjoy your date with Master Bruce.”
Clark reached out and took Bruce’s hand, squeezing it. “Oh, I think I will,” he said, smiling.